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Court ruling could be crushing blow for auto racing in FL
Parents cannot waive the right of a child injured in a commercial event to file lawsuits, the Florida Supreme Court ruled earlier this month.

The ruling may have a significant impact on auto racing, particularly its junior classes, which is designed to feature kids as young as 6 years old, in go-karting. For most purposes, Florida law defines children as anyone under 18.

The December 11 ruling stems from a May 10, 2003 accident involving a 14-year-old boy who was killed while jumping an ATV at an off-road motorsports park. The child’s father had signed a “release and waiver of liability, assumption of risk, and indemnity agreement,” according to the ruling. However a representative of the child’s estate stepped forward and filed a lawsuit for wrongful death against the park’s operators.

A majority of the Florida Supreme Court justices said, in ruling that the lawsuit could go forward, that the waiver signed by the father is “unenforceable.”

“We hold that a pre-injury release executed by a parent on behalf of a minor child is unenforceable against the minor or the minor’s estate in a tort action arising from injuries resulting from participation in a commercial activity,” the majority opinion states. “It cannot be presumed that a parent who has decided to voluntarily risk a minor child’s physical well-being is acting in the child’s best interest.

“Furthermore, we find that there is injustice when a parent agrees to waive the tort claims of a minor child and deprive the child of the right to legal relief when the child is injured as a result of another party’s negligence. When a parent executes such a release and a child is injured, the provider of the activity escapes liability while the parent is left to deal with the financial burden of an injured child. If the parent cannot afford to bear that burden, the parties who suffer are the child, other family members, and the people of the State who will be called on to bear that financial burden. Therefore, when a parent decides to execute a pre-injury release on behalf of a minor child, the parent is not protecting the welfare of the child, but is instead protecting the interests of the activity provider.”

The potentially wide sweep of the ruling drew the attention of dissenting Justice Charles Wells, who wrote:

“Without the ability to execute pre-injury releases, a parent may find that his or her minor child will not be able to participate in activities because the operators of the activities will not accept the financial exposure of the minor’s participation, regardless of whether the parent would decide that the benefit to the minor outweighed the risk of injury.

“I believe that it is fundamentally unfair to now declare a new public policy and then apply it to the defendants in this case. … The importance of this issue cannot be overstated because it affects so many youth activities and involves so much monetary exposure.”

The case can be found online at: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2008/sc07-1739.pdf

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